Wirral Council take over 19 months to respond to FOI request on Birkenhead Park and other matters

Wirral Council take over 19 months to respond to FOI request on Birkenhead Park and other matters

Wirral Council take over 19 months to respond to FOI request on Birkenhead Park and other matters

                                        

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Birkenhead Park as it was in 2007.

Birkenhead Park in 2007 copyright John Brace
Birkenhead Park in 2007 copyright John Brace

I feel a bit sorry for Wirral Council’s legal department who seem to have given me the longest response to one of my FOI requests to Wirral Council ever which is in response to this ICO decision notice and a FOI request I made on 29th March 2013.

I’m beginning to think I should look for sponsorship from a black marker pen manufacturer as even the minutes they have supplied have been heavily redacted. Below is an example of set of minutes I’ve finally received, which is the minutes of the Birkenhead Park Advisory Committee meeting of the 17th October 2012. I think over 19 months is a record by Wirral Council for responding to one of my FOI requests.

Birkenhead Park Advisory Committee
Minutes of meeting 17th October 2012

Attendance
Chair: Cllr George Davies
Councillors: Cllr Denise Roberts, Cllr David Elderton, Cllr Cherry Povall, Cllr Stuart Kelly, Cllr Jean Stapleton, Cllr Alan Brighouse
Members: XXXXXXXXXXXX
Wirral Council Officers: XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX

Item 1 Apologies
Cllr Brian Kenny, Insp Roy McGregor, XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX

Item 2 Minutes of previous meeting
The minutes were accepted as a true record.

Item 3 Matters arising
Cllr Elderton raised an issue over traffic calming measures.
XXXXXXXXXXXX confirmed signage for the advisory speed limit had been approved by the Conservation Officer.
There was then a question over funding for the above and a request for legal advice on how this advisory speed limit could be made enforceable.

Item 4 Park Manager’s Report
XXXXXXXXXXXX reported the fall in the number of school visits and suggested possible reasons for it, including poor weather and the closure of two schools which regularly visited the park.
Cllr Stapleton asked why such small numbers from University Academy.
XXXXXXXXXXXX suggested the loss of the education officer has affected contact.
XXXXXXXXXXXX suggested a possible role for a volunteer to contact schools and encourage visits.

XXXXXXXXXXXX reported that the work experience programme was a real success as was the Physical Activities programme.
XXXXXXXXXXXX suggested that income from commercial activities could help with finances.
XXXXXXXXXXXX said an increase was required in commercial operations.
XXXXXXXXXXXX predicted that this will increase.

XXXXXXXXXXXX reported to the group regarding the park’s drainage.
It was agreed by all that exceptional weather this year had caused flooding and was unavoidable.

XXXXXXXXXXXX the Events Arena could take surplus water which will also enhance biodiversity.

XXXXXXXXXXXX referred to the increase in concreting over gardens which doesn’t allow the water to drain and thereby causes increased flooding.

XXXXXXXXXXXX reported on underground water tank proposed by United Utilities because of flooding to basements in Park Road South.
XXXXXXXXXXXX said there was a potential revenue asset from development of remaining plots in the park, and the United Utilities proposal to build a storage tank on the plot by Gothic Lodge would make this asset difficult to sell.

Cllr George Davies reported that the ESWA club was closing down and the building was for sale.
XXXXXXXXXXXX asked if the park could make use of the area.
Cllr George Davies suggested keeping eye on developments.

XXXXXXXXXXXX reported the launch of the Park Watch scheme, adding that members were being recruited before calling the first (inaugural) meeting.

XXXXXXXXXXXX gave a report on IRIMS Incident Reporting and Management System, saying there were some “glitches” remaining but it should be up and running in a couple of months.

XXXXXXXXXXXX reported on the new Dog Control Order being proposed to exclude dogs from all children’s play areas in Wirral. He also reported on the possibility of a further Dog Control Order requiring an owner to put a dog on lead if requested, currently the byelaws state only that the dog must be under control.
Cllr Elderton suggested publicising the result of any further action after the event be recorded.
XXXXXXXXXXXX expressed his concern at the nature and number of dog related incidents, suggesting the voluntary code of conduct was no good.

XXXXXXXXXXXX updated the group on the success of the Forest Schools initiative.

Item 5 Membership of Birkenhead Park Advisory Committee
Cllr George Davies requested to expand group to take in the councillor with cabinet responsibility for Cultural Services. This was agreed by all.

Item 6 Any Other Business
XXXXXXXXXXXX suggested an opportunity for external funding for restoration of the Jackson Memorial, Bandstand, Conservatory and Horticultural Training.
XXXXXXXXXXXX suggested that the Friends of Birkenhead Park be invited to submit a report to a future meeting.

Item 7 Date of Next Meeting
It was agreed to meet in Mid April 2013.

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Councillors met to discuss 3 areas of Future Council consultation (Youth and Play, Gitrell Court and West Kirby Marine Lake)

Councillors met to discuss 3 areas of Future Council consultation (Youth and Play, Gitrell Court and West Kirby Marine Lake)

Councillors met to discuss 3 areas of Future Council consultation (Youth and Play, Gitrell Court and West Kirby Marine Lake)

                                                    

Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee  Wirral Council  3rd November 2014   L to R Legal adviser who was missing, Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Chair), Clare Fish and Graham Hodkinson
Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee Wirral Council 3rd November 2014 L to R Legal adviser who was missing, Cllr Moira McLaughlin (Chair), Clare Fish and Graham Hodkinson

Last night showed something that we’ve been promised for some time which is pre-decision scrutiny (of a sort). Now the Future Council consultation is over, the first of three overview and scrutiny committees met yesterday evening to discuss the proposed budget cuts in their area of responsibility.

Prior to this there had been a behind closed doors set of meetings among councillors, which explained why the public meeting itself was rather short.

The rather late reports (which included a Powerpoint presentation on the consultation results) concentrated on the following proposed budget cuts:

Youth and Play Service £450,000 cut closing 4 youth centres, reducing provision at the “hubs” from five evening a week to four, Play Schemes funding ceased, grant to Wirral Play Council stopped, Civil Award Scheme stopped and Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme stopped. If chosen this would end play schemes in Beechwood, Gautby Road (in Bidston) and Leasowe Adventure Playground in Wallasey. These three playschemes cost Wirral Council £190,000 a year but benefit about 600 children.

The Wirral Play Council (a charity on the Wirral) runs play schemes including an annual event at Birkenhead Park attended by 3,000 children, which was discussed at the Youth and Play Service Advisory Committee public meeting last week. People at that meeting were shown photos of the Mayor at this event in Birkenhead Park which I can’t show you because the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services Cllr Tony Smith and Wirral Council officers decided to try to negotiate a broadcast media blackout of that public meeting and had I tried to film it, Surjit Tour would’ve advised Cllr Tony Smith to adjourn that meeting.

The detail of the effects of each proposal had been previously discussed behind closed doors by councillors who then produced a scrutiny panel report.

The other possible budget cuts involved Girtell Court (a short break respite service for adults with disabilities of £385,000), a cut to the all age disability service of £600,000 (affecting Willow Tree (overnight short breaks for children with high-level learning and physical disabilities), Children with Disabilities Team, Transition Team and the Family Support Team) and West Kirby Marine Lake (a cut of £25,000 and the possible outsourcing to a third party although an alternative option is being looked at).

Certainly these were not popular proposals (especially considering the fuss kicked up over the playschemes proposal) cuts and in not all areas did councillors agree with officers. At one point the Chair felt that the cuts were just being fitted around the amounts that had to be saved. As the budget options cover £4 million out of £2.5 million of options, some won’t happen, however you can watch the video of the meeting below to see and hear what councillors and officers said.

I will upload clearer audio of the meeting at a later date, although I felt it was important to point out the above at this point. When the overview and scrutiny committees finish (the last one is scheduled for tomorrow night), their proposals will feed into a Cabinet meeting which will make a recommendation on the budget to Council. All councillors will then meet, debate, discuss and vote on the budget, which according to the new legislation now has to be done by each councillor individually voting on each budget proposal (due to a change in legislation earlier this year). This way when it comes to election time in May, the Wirral public can look up how certain councillors standing in the election voted on the issues that matter to them if they so wish.

There are however going to be sections of society lobbying hard to make sure the Labour administration (who decide where the cuts are) spares them from the effects of the cuts. It remains to be seen how easy it will be both for councillors and political parties to deal with the public relations effects of what is proposed. As was mentioned at the meeting yesterday evening, there are large petitions opposing some of the cuts proposed. Some petitions are large enough that the petition organisers will get the right to speak at the Council meeting at which these decisions are made. The papers for this public meeting can be read on Wirral Council’s website

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Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee Wirral Council 3rd November 2014 Part 1

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Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee Wirral Council 3rd November 2014 Part 2

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